7 Essential Elements of Data Storage Compliance Regulations

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Many companies face a difficult compromise when it comes to managing data storage: data must be accessible, but it must also be secure. The problem may be simpler with cloud data storage than on-premises, as you are paying someone else to manage the underlying infrastructure, but it can also make it more challenging to comply with data security standards. It can also be more expensive, too.

Many compliance frameworks, from the California Consumer Privacy Act of 2018 (CCPA) to the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), require the same kind of actions, processes, and plans. One way to reduce the cost of compliance is to identify where they overlap and consolidate the steps necessary to meet them holistically across the organization rather than piecemeal. This article provides a high-level overview of seven essential elements of compliance regulations for data storage systems and how to meet them. 

Also read: GDPR Compliance: What Storage Pros Must Know

Table of Contents


Disclosures form the backbone of most public-facing compliance frameworks today. The idea behind the disclosures built into the GDPR and the CCPA, among other frameworks, is to be explicit with customers as to which data you are collecting from them, what you will do with it, and how you will store it. As with many aspects of data compliance, the GDPR currently has the strictest requirements when it comes to what you need to disclose, so it’s a good idea to use your GDPR disclosure as a basis for other statements. The consequences of failing to do so could be costly. The European Union fined Meta 1.2 billion Euros earlier this year for violations, and in total, GDPR fines exceed 4 billion Euros.

Privacy Policies

Privacy policies contain some of the same information as disclosures, in that they define how, where, and why you will be collecting, processing, and storing data. However, good privacy policies will also specify who is responsible for keeping data secure and the actions you will take if you are made aware of a breach. Though writing a detailed privacy policy might seem like a lot of work, the process can be a constructive one. Your policy will form the central document that details your approach to data privacy and security, and if drafted well, can act as a valuable reference guide for years to come. When possible, work with your legal department to draft a thorough policy that can endure with minimal revision rather than planning on frequent revisions and updates.

Encryption and Anonymizing

Most compliance frameworks today make some mention of anonymization and encryption. However, few spell out precisely how this should be done or which data should be encrypted. This is a critical part of PCI compliance, for instance, which requires that payment details be made anonymous if stored in publicly accessible systems but doesn’t fully define what this means. As a result, PCI compliance in the cloud can be difficult to achieve. In practice, this means that companies have little choice but to put in place the strongest, most ubiquitous encryption they possibly can and hope that it is rigid enough to meet compliance approval. Data masking is an additional safeguard that removes such sensitive data as personally identifiable information or credit card numbers and replaces it with fake, but realistic, values, providing a simple way to sanitize data sufficiently to meet data sovereignty and privacy challenges.

Firewalls and Access Control

Most compliance frameworks specify that access controls must be in place to control access to data. The portion of your data you need to place behind access control systems will vary by framework, though. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), for instance, necessitates that you take special measures to control access to patient data, but allows you to share anonymized data with healthcare providers. Knowing which data you must control and which you can store in a more accessible way is a key part of making your compliance processes more streamlined. Zero trust access controls are gaining ground as a way to provide access to users by requiring additional verification steps, like multi-factor authentication (MFA), while providing a much-improved barrier against incursion.

Audit Logs

Some frameworks also require you to keep audit logs. These are a record of what has been done on your systems, and by whom—the idea is that, should a data privacy or security incident arise, you should be able to trace back an audit trail to a single person. While responsibility for breaches hardly ever comes down to just one person, audit logs form a valuable resource during the post-breach investigation, where they can provide a roadmap for how to improve your systems.

Retention Schedules

Retention schedules provide details to compliance assessors about how long to retain particular types of data, how to define those retention periods, and how thoroughly they will be deleted when they are no longer needed. The best way to reach public cloud compliance is to use retention schedules as a way of proactively planning your data storage requirements. Frequent auditing and deletion of data can significantly reduce the amount you need to spend on storage, but in order to responsibly delete data, you need to research and codify how long you are required to keep it. Automation can help with this. Data management tools can automatically tag and classify data by type, sensitivity, and by personally identifiable information, as well as by lifecycle—for example, how long it should be retained and when it can be safely deleted.

Breach Notifications

The final element of most compliance frameworks is breach notifications. These are notices that companies must issue when they become aware of a data breach so that customers can take appropriate actions. Check the requirements of your compliance frameworks; most impose a different schedule when it comes to breach notifications. Some allow a certain amount of time to perform forensic examination on systems and to identify the source of the breach, but once the immediate damage has been stopped, they also require immediate notification to customers.

Bottom Line: Essential Elements of Compliance Regulations

Though each compliance framework imposes different requirements on your company, many of them are built from the same basic elements. Identifying where those elements overlap can help you address them more holistically across your organization, reducing effort and expense and minimizing the risk of failure to comply. 

Read next: Enterprise Data Storage Compliance Guide

Drew Robb
Drew Robb
Drew Robb is a contributing writer for Datamation, Enterprise Storage Forum, eSecurity Planet, Channel Insider, and eWeek. He has been reporting on all areas of IT for more than 25 years. He has a degree from the University of Strathclyde UK (USUK), and lives in the Tampa Bay area of Florida.

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